We have been getting a subscription to National Geographic History magazine for two years now. They have fascinating articles that I appreciate much more than the history lessons taken at school. Perhaps it is because now, as an adult, I have more interest in how people survived the struggles that have created our world as we know it. I can imagine how I would have felt.
An article from last spring was called “More Than Matrons, a New Age for Roman Women“. Way back in 450 BC, it noted that Rome’s legal code,the “Law of the Twelve Tables” was created. Table V (5) places women under the control of male heads of the household. Roman families were run by the oldest living male and he determined everything. This law also decreed “Women, even though they are of full age, because of their levity of mind, shall be under male guardianship”. When she married, she would bear children and teach them the same rules.
The article brought me back to a question that I had in mind many years ago. Why did I accept the domestic rules of my first marriage, the one that came to a crashing end? I watch young women today who seem like they would never be so obedient as I was then. I don’t think however, that the Romans were the only ones to set and maintain this rule through the centuries. It just shows you how long ago these ideas existed.
When I was young, men were pretty much in charge. They were the CEO’s, principals, pilots, generals etc. There were exceptions, but they were few. My mom ruled the roost at home, but outside the house or in a debate, my dad was the “Head of the House”. That was the way it was, but times they were a’changing! I saw women gain control of their bodies with the arrival of the pill and legal abortion. Women’s Lib challenged the status quo and fought to update it, something started so long ago with our Suffragette sisters. Sadly though, there is always a backlash to change where you see men fighting to stay on top of positions and pay scales. When I think of it, I honestly believed that I was a second class citizen, because that’s what women were when I joined this world and that was the way it was in my domestic life too.
But I grew up. I chafed at the restrictions of my husband’s rules. I came to know that I could not continue living a limited life. When my sons were old enough to make their own decisions, I started learning and planning my escape with the help of counsellors at Women’s Rural Resource Centre. Like Roman mothers, I had taught my boys to “play the game ” as well, to give in to their father’s tirades in order for them the end. After a loud outburst one day, I quietly promised them that we were not going to do this anymore. About 2 months later, we left the house and spent two nights at the shelter in Strathroy. I continued the process with the help of friends, family and counsellors, of growing into a first class citizen. I shed the skin of false beliefs.
Today I believe that women are equals to men and that marriage must be a partnership with equal say and respect for each other. It’s a new way of thinking, not what we were taught to think, in the dark ages.back